On the fragility of rock: 11 emergency calls in a relationship not to be underestimated

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I can understand that other people sometimes want to hurt us, but I cannot understand why we would ever let them, or why we sometimes hurt ourselves. People who would avoid the destruction of something valuable at all costs will still allow themselves to be broken by someone as if they themselves had no value. 

I have often been astonished at how different people respond to negative life events. At times, I have spoken to people who are crushed by things that others would just brush off. These people will dwell on a negative comment or find themselves held back by a hundred “what if”s. To them, every little negative becomes and enormous road block.

In contrast, there are people who go through horrendous misfortune and hardship and emerge almost intact. They always retain that belief in themselves and their abilities, no matter what life throws at them.

I don’t judge people in either camp. The emotionally weak are not cowards and the emotionally strong are not heroes. Some of how they react is ingrained, some of it is learned. But I do think that the self-belief of emotionally robust people can be taught to anyone, and that it can save those who suffer needlessly at the hands of others as much is can spur those who are tougher to be tougher still. 

What can’t be taught is determination. In my experience, that has to come from within. It has to be a need that seeks fulfilment, a desire that longs to be expressed. Successful people don’t resent the time and effort that they pour into their ventures because very often they are their ventures. Their businesses are an extension of their personalities that they nurture and cosset as if they were children. 

When others lack faith in them they push on anyway, often more fiercely. They persevere, despite setbacks, and it is this willingness to get up and dust themselves off after each fall that makes them successful. Determination is what gets them to where they are going in the end. 

It’s not all plain sailing of course. I’m not trying to paint successful people as Terminator style robots who doggedly fight to the death without hearts and feelings. I’m not trying to suggest that when some knockback has driven their business into the ground that they don’t feel the pain of looming failure. What I am saying, is that despite being beset by the same feelings as anyone else, they do not take the same actions. They react to their feelings with acceptance. When they feel apprehensive they keep on trying, because stopping is never an option that they would consider.

As Winston Churchill said, “This is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never….” 

Believing in ourselves when it’s something that doesn’t come to us naturally can be hard. If the habit of a lifetime is to always expect the worst to happen and that we won’t be up to the challenge then it’s going to take a lot to unlearn that kind of approach. But it can be done, and it has been done before by others.

Winston Churchill said: “Success is never final and failure is never fatal. Courage to go on is what counts in one’s life.” 

When I first met Daniel Křetínský ten years ago, he was ‘only’ a lawyer and a partner of the J&T Financial Group. He had bought himself a new Maserati Quattroporte for 3 million Czech Crowns and felt guilty that he could have paid so much money just for a car. He was 29 years old and I was impressed at this young, successful man. The fact that he thought the car was extravagant made me think that perhaps he was uncomfortable with his success and that he just needed to get used to it. 

I thought that he had reached his final destination, but I was wrong. Just ten years later he is the youngest among the ten richest Czechs. He is a billionaire in US dollar terms. His growth has been phenomenal, but the thing that you learn is that it’s not actually money that drives people such as him. It’s the passion they find for something and the desire to succeed at it. Becoming wealthy was almost a side-effect.

It was Rockefeller who said, “If your only goal is to become rich, you will never achieve it.” By which he meant that the pursuit of money alone is not enough reason to keep going. First you need to experience the urgent desire to succeed at something, to build it, then the money will come.

All Roads Lead to Rome

Many people are surprised by non-academics such as Ingvar Kamprad or Richard Branson and wonder how they could now be worth billions when their education was below average, but there is really no mystery. 

There is no law that states you need an MBA to succeed in business. Branson’s empire was once just a mail order record company, and dealing with the array of day-to-day issues that growing it threw across his path was at the heart of his education. He learned by doing.

That’s not to say that there is no value in a formal education, just that it’s only one option out of many on the pathway to success. From the point of view of people like Ingvar Kamprad orRichard Branson, education was a distraction from what they really wanted to do. 

That’s not a recommendation to avoid education of course, just a dose of perspective. For some people, doing is the best kind of learning.

It’s true that a degree is a minimum requirement to go into certain fields. For example, there are no self-trained doctors currently practising medicine (one would hope…) but even with a good degree, the job market has become more competitive in recent years, and graduates can no longer expect to be handed a job just because they attained a diploma.

Daniel Křetínský, who graduated in law from Masaryk University in Brno says: “When I hire new people, it does not matter which schools they have attended. Their personal characteristics, abilities and current level of knowledge are important to me. I do not think that a famous foreign school is something that can fundamentally influence a person’s ability to succeed at work. For instance, ownership of an MBA is not a criterion that would move the candidate higher for me. In the job interview, it has zero relevance. What matters is the level of knowledge and reasoning that a person has, notwhat he or she has gone through.” 

Having any education, even higher education, is no more than a starting point. Knowing the recipe book off by heart does not mean that someone knows how to cook. In some ways, a university graduate is just a work in progress, and they need to make it their mission to constantly update their skills to avoid being left behind. 

Some people who do not do well academically and fail at school are not only forced into finding novel ways to survive, but often feel that they have something to prove to the world. If they can harness this in a positive way then even without the advantage of a successful education, they will find that they can flourish.

They must be determined to overcome any obstacles that life puts in their way. They must be willing to make mistakes and learn from them. They must have the strength of self-belief to continue when times are difficult. 

If they do, then the results can be astonishing. Kamprad, the dyslexic founder of IKEA is a billionaire. And Branson, also a dyslexic, is a billionaire with his own private island. Both of them are more successful than 99 percent of university graduates. 

Odd one out

One of the problems with educational assessment is that it does not always measure ability correctly, and it does not always recognise the kinds of qualities that might lead a person to be successful. Modern education is set up to measure a particular set of standards and aptitudes, and often this does not align with what a good business person needs to succeed. 

The person who does not fit into the school system because they are unable or unwilling to do what is asked of them is likely to face a chorus of disapproval from teachers, peers and families. No one can blame these people for this. There are plenty of school dropouts who end up achieving nothing. 

But for the person who has plenty of self-belief, a strong vision and a work ethic, this negativity is something that they will have to get used to, pushing on along their own path, while quietly repeating to themselves the mantra, “Success is the best revenge.”

Victims

I knew of a woman aged twenty-four who started work after she had finished her education. She worked for a popular store and through her own ingenuity she managed to increase turnover dramatically and was soon flying high. 

Difficulties began when the store manager revealed that he had a big gambling problem and he had used the store’s cash to fund his addiction. 

He used his managerial position to require my friend to lend him enough money to cover the crime or he would have to fire her. My friend, simple-minded and a good soul, thought that she was doing the right thing, that she would help a man who was in trouble. She got the money and lent it to him. However, when the regional manager of this company discovered the money was missing, he immediately fired her on suspicion of being involved in embezzlement. It was a terrible lesson.

Paradoxically, the man stayed on in the shop because he managed to balance the accounts, and the woman who helped him was sacked. Afterwards she did not know who she could trust. 

My young friend could have been crushed by this experience. She could have lived a life of bitterness and resentment, but instead she left the past where it belongs and built her own future. While unemployed thanks to a tainted curriculum vitae she had a lot of time to sit on the internet at home. So much time in fact that she became very interested in the behaviours of internet users. With the knowledge she gathered she established a very successful e-shop and nowadays she enjoys a much higher income than she ever had in her old job. 

Success is something that comes when the desires that lie within us emerge to take advantage of the opportunities that life presents. My friend had the kind of mindset to see the potential in her newfound “freedom” from traditional work. Where some people would have felt unjustly treated and may have crumbled under the sheer unfairness of what happened, she had the strength of will to persevere and look for new opportunities. She never adopted the role of victim. It wasn’t easy but she shrugged it off and carried on. And in the end, she was able to look back on the selfishness of her old gambler boss as a favour that he did for her. So, it seems apt to repeat what I said before – “Success is the best revenge.”

© Petr Casanova